Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rockford Roof Tiles 4 Mile Road Race

Recently I was reminded of a football (Soccer - the real football) game that I went to watch some years ago. A Dublin team were playing a team from a village close to where I live. I knew some of the lads from the Dublin club so I wanted to go along and voice my support.
I was chatting to some of the Dubs after the came when one of them asked if I lived close by, I answered "Yeah about 5 or 6 miles that way", "Jaysus" said he said in reply "you travelled all that way to watch a match?"
Today I travelled 12 miles to a local athletics club road race. I wanted to run this race because it was the local race, 15 minutes drive, I wonder how far you can travel in 15 minutes in Dublin ?

My friend Sean made the trip from Dublin for the race. We set off from my house for the short journey, as always I enjoyed our chat on the way.
We were waved into a parking area behind the church, asked some chap in a hi viz vest the way to registration and found ourselves walking through a graveyard.
"Through a graveyard, do you think we are going the right way? " I asked Sean
"Yeah, this is where they put the losers" he replied

We popped out on the main street, we were walking to the right when I spotted numerous people going into a building behind us, so in we go a join a queue, I did notice that some of the people here looked on the young side. Turns out we nearly signed up for the under 15 1 mile race. Anyway we found the correct registration area and with only a slight hiccup when they hadn't got Seans on-line registration on file we went out for a short warm up run and once again an opportunity to have a chat catching up on the latest news.

Learning lessons from previous races I was close to the start line when starter set us on our way, I still didn't have the confidence to go right to the front line, in fairness there were some serious runners there. The usual malee ensued as we ran the first quarter mile or so. I was running along enjoying the experience, the crowd, the warm weather when someone passed me, the runner going by knocked me from my reverie, I suddenly realised I was actually in a race and not on the warm up phase of a training run, a strange time to daydream !
"Right Chris focus, why are you not breathing hard yet, this is supposed to hurt, get on with it"
I spotted Sean just ahead of me and thought to myself if I could hang on close to him for a while I'd be doing ok, he was gradually increasing the distance between us a yard at a time.
The first mile marker was painted on the road, I hit it some yards before my Garmin beeped the mile, a guy there was calling out the time, just before I hit it he calls 5 twenty something. That couldn't be right, that's way too fast. Prior to the race I had decided not to look at my watch for anything other than distance or heart rate but when it beeped the first mile I had to sneak a look ... 5.41.. 5.41 wow, my fastest recorded mile since I started running a couple of years ago. What I haven't mentioned so far is that this first mile was predominantly downhill - to be honest, I wasn't going to say anything about the hill but I wouldn't be able to sleep if I didn't ;-)

I was drifting off the runners ahead of me in the second mile, not by a huge amount but it was noticeable to me. In the St James Hospital 6.5k race a runner closed up behind me but took some time to get past, all the while I could hear them breathing hard, from the sound of the breathing I knew that it was a woman. The same thing happened today in the second mile, a woman's heavy breathing closing ever so slowly, getting nearer, just on my shoulder, then passing me an inch at a time. As she drew level with me I threw a sideways glance and was greeted by the sight of a hairy bloke passing me !! I wonder does he know he sounds like a woman ?

In the third mile I was running out of steam. I was trying to keep the gap to the runners ahead to a constant distance but I was slowly drifting back. I looked behind me to see a group of 4 or 5 people not far behind, some more rearward looks confirmed that they were gradually closing me down. At this point I was thinking that could be a good thing, they were only travelling slightly faster than me so when they catch up I'll just tuck in behind and hang on 'till the finish.
Ahh, the best laid schemes 'o mice and men. The first part of the plan worked perfectly, they caught and passed me, this is where the plan failed, I just couldn't increase my pace by the tiny amount to hang on with this group.

About half way through the last mile I was passed by a chap I know, we exchanged some words, he told me there was just half a mile left, I knew this but I was thinking to myself half a mile is very short, I want to hang on to him until the finish but even as I was thinking this he was drawing ahead of me. I just couldn't hurt myself, not today. My legs were tired and heavy, I guess the over 5 hours of Gael Force adventure race last Saturday was still taking it's toll. I had really hoped that I would be fully recovered, not so much for a result today but to justify sandwiching the Dublin Half Marathon (an important build up for the Dublin marathon) between two adventure races - it's going to be an interesting 3 weeks in September !

My out loud target time for this race was 26 minutes - 6.30 minutes per mile. I had resisted looking at my watch, even when I crossed the 800 metres to go marker I didn't give in to the temptation to steal a quick glance. As I ran along the finishing straight I was cheered on by Sean, who once again clocked up a cracking time and looked far too fresh for the effort required to hit these sort of times.
I was disappointed when I saw the clock at the finish line showing 26 minutes and some seconds, there goes my target time, I couldn't even muster a sprint for the last few yards. I crossed the line at about 26.21. 21 seconds over target time.

After the race I was drained, I think that if this was a 10k or even a 5 miler I would have been in real trouble, as it was the 4 miles nearly killed me :-(
I joined Sean while he was chatting to a runner from Raheny AC, they mentioned the extra yards over the 4 miles. My ears pricked up, extra distance, what extra distance? It transpired that the course is slightly over 4 miles long, maybe I did hit my target after all.

On arriving home I downloaded the info from my Garmin. My mile splits were very erratic, maybe something to work on but the information I wanted was sitting there on the top line, avg pace .......6.29 /mi. Result, (out loud) target time by 1 second per mile.

Well done to Tinryland AC for a well organised and thoroughly enjoyable race.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Gael Force West Adventure Race 2010

Last years Gael Force race was my first attempt at adventure events and I had a blast so I had some idea of what to expect.

As usual for these events I travelled with my good mate Kevin. We arrived to Westport on Friday afternoon, booked into the campsite at Westport House and also booked a motorhome bay for Damo, Joyce and Susan, who were arriving later that evening. We were told we could pitch our tent (the new huge 8 man one) beside the campervan bay, which worked out well for the rest of the weekend.
Myself and Kev then headed off to Lenane to register and then on to the Delphi centre to drop off our bikes, It was all well organised and went without a hiccup.

I wanted to have a look at the new part of the cycle route, I had heard on that the surface was rough. As we drove along the cycle route memories were flooding back from last years event, I had thoroughly enjoyed this bike stage and was eagerly awaiting a repeat the following day.

I was totally dumbfounded when I saw the new section, who in their right mind would ride a road bike over this rubble, it was an unsurfaced bog road with nothing but loose gravel and rocks. I was lost for words and kept repeating "this is nuts, they can't be serious". I was so looking forward to the bike stage and then they go and pull this stunt, WTF. I must admit that I considered pulling out after seeing this "road", anyway it put me in bad form for a while.
The guys arrived later that evening and I brought them and out to the Delpi to drop their bikes. It was dark by the time we arrived and it was weird seeing thousands of bikes packed into two fields, I've never seen so many bikes in one place before. Then back to the campsite for a massive 4 hours sleep.

Kevin, Damo and myself were on the 5.00am bus, yes, you read correctly 5.00am. Fair play to Joyce who got up early to drop us to the bus, this saved a 30 minute walk.

Unlike last year the journey to the starting point was in total darkness. It was still dark as we left the bus to walk to the starting point.

There was a bit of craic as we waited for the off, the usual nervous pre-race tension was evident but it wasn't long before we were given a safety briefing and made our way to the starting point on the beach.

The start was a mad scramble from the beach through the dunes and onto the road, the first section was uphill so some heavy breathing can be expected, usually that settles down after a short while.
I wasn't feeling very comfortable on the run and noted that my heart rate was very high for the pace we were doing. I ran alongside Kevin on a couple of occasions, we exchanged a few words but we both had our own race to run.

The route had been changed from last year, this meant an extra 2k on the run but we didn't have to run cross-country over a hill/mountain. I hoped that the new route would be reasonably even but it was muddy and rocky, difficult to negotiate, the type of terrain that I really struggle on. I was passed by plenty of runners along here. Once I reached a stile - where last years track joins the famine path - the ground evened out somewhat, I started to get into some sort of rhythm.

I don't know why I felt so bad on the run, maybe it was the dry ham & cheese sandwich I had on the bus or the dirty big burger and chips I had for a late dinner the evening before, whatever the reason I seriously doubted that I would be able to finish the race, hours still to go and feeling like crap.
Along Killary fjord on the Famine path I began to feel somewhat better and settled in behind 2 lads at a pace that felt comfortable, I stayed with them until the kayak transition.
Stage 1 Run completed in 1.16.25

Because I started in the first wave the kayak stage was not timed out so it was grab a buoyancy aid and straight into a boat. A guy asked me to partner him, I asked him if he paddled, he said he did so I told him to take the back seat - something of a mistake I think, we zig zagged across the fjord. I was getting some mild cramp at the top of my thighs, I was praying that I wouldn't go into spasm. Despite our erratic course we made the kayak stage in reasonable time.
Stage 2 Kayak completed 9.23.

The run from the fjord to the bike transition was uneventful, with the exception of stopping when I realised my garmin watch was only displaying the actual time and not any of the other functions, this freaked me, no stop watch, no heart rate, no pace, no distance, anyway I couldn't fix it.I fell in behind the same two lads for the run into Delphi
Stage 3 Run completed 19.54

I took my time at the bike transition, getting a drink and some food while sorting my gloves, helmet etc. passed a few words with Kevin as he was heading off.

I took a steady pace, using the bike for recovery, I passed some competitors along the way, I was passed by 2 guys in a short space of time but kept in touch with them, eventually passing both again. We swapped places several times, I dropped them before the main road, I did see one of them later on Croagh Patrick, the poor chap was having trouble with cramp.

I bumped into my 2 running companions on the way and it turns out that one of them knew me from a previous job in Dublin years ago, small world.

I enjoyed the cycle until I hit the new "off road" section. I had been dreading this, I dropped into the lowest gear a peddled steadily uphill trying to pick a line through the stones, feeling the back wheel slip and slide while roughly bumping along the track was pure abuse of a road bike. The strong head wind didn't help me feel any better. Uphill was bad but the downhill was worse, how I didn't have a spill is still something of a mystery to me. There was a short surfaced section then back to the rocky stuff, this time with a gusting cross wind, that made for some bum clenching moments. To say that I was happy to reach the Croagh Patrick transition is probably the understatement of the year.
Stage 4 Bike completed 1.37.26

The options at the start of the Croagh Patrick climb are the zig zag path which is longer but less steep or head directly up the mountain to the pilgrims path which is a lung buster of a climb. This year I chose the zig zag, I managed to get to the Pilgrims path without too much heartache but then the fun started.

The path consists of various sized rocks, stones and pebbles. At times I was taking 1 step forward and sliding 1/2 step back. I was really tired, it felt like I was getting nowhere. I'd love to know how all those little old dears manage to get to the top of the mountain to say prayers. I stopped a couple of times to catch my breath but did my best to keep moving. I spotted Kevin bouncing down and got some video of his goat like descent.
At last the summit, I checked my watch and noted that it was only 6 minutes since I'd passed Kevin - not bad, certainly better than last year. I asked some bloke to take my photo then set off on the descent.
Stage 5 Run/walk/climb completed 46.28

This is the part that I'm really, really bad at. I had decided to try to get down the mountain at a reasonable speed so off I set at a slipping, sliding, hopping type of jog. That lasted all of about 100 yards before I realised that I was very likely to face plant into the rocks so I tip toed along the path until I cut off to take the shorter route back through the heather.

I had been thinking that if I saw Damo soon he would very likely overtake me on the downhill as he's a bit of a downhill junkie. Next thing I hear "Hay Casso" and there was Damo pushing up the mountain - more video here, soon to be on youtube.

The heather/bog part is like a series of steps with hidden leg eating holes again it's not exactly a favourite of mine. I angled down and across the mountainside all the while heading for the flat(ish) ground near the transition area. I was leading with my right leg, on several occasions I went over on my ankle, nothing too serious but annoying all the same, once I took a full on tumble and rolled a couple of times down the hill, before I came to a stop I was wondering if mountain rescue would be able to find me if I got the dreaded lower leg injury, anyway all was well and I made it to the road in one piece.
Stage 6 Run/slide/fall completed 31.46

On the run across the road to where my bike was parked had me feeling like my legs belonged to someone else, a really strange feeling that lasted until I got on my bike.

At last the final stage. I cycled downhill enjoying the speed but soon had to take a left turn onto the final off road section. Like the previous off road section it was a case of selecting a low gear and picking a route through the rocks and mud. At one point I was cycling along a narrow strip of grass and mud at the edge of the track just inches from a large ditch, I remember thinking to myself that if I fell to my right it would not be a pleasant experience. With some wobbling and plenty of luck I reached the top of the hill. The track was in a slightly better condition than last year and I was hoping that I may be able to cycle the remaining part but there were 2 or 3 sections on the downhill that would have been nuts to cycle on a road bike - I found out later that Damo had cycled the whole track at speed ... nutter! - I dismounted and ran these parts. Heading downhill to the last bad section I noticed a cyclist receiving medical treatment at the edge of the path, I was so in my own head that I only spared a passing glance at this poor competitor. Because the cyclist was surrounded by medical personal I only glimpsed them fitting a neck brace but I hadn't noticed any other details.
I was some yards past the accident just about to remount my bike when I had a horrible thought "could that have been Kevin" I started back up the path to try to find out, I saw a white bike - same colour as Kevin's - Jesus, that's not good. I couldn't make any details of the competitor because of the medics, then I got a glimpse of a jersey, different colour to Kevins, thank jaysus for that. Back on the bike.
Just as the track joins the road there was a group of supporters, mostly kids. I shouted as I approached them "Am I winning ? ". I had a good chuckle when one of them shouted back "Yeah, you're doing great"
Although I was now on "proper" road the surface was wet with plenty of loose gravel so I was on the brakes for most of the downhill. I was so happy to get onto the main road, nearly there now, like last year I totally enjoyed the cycle to Westport Quay.
The route change at the finish involved hopping onto a footpath, cycling along a grass/mud path and rejoining the road via a timber ramp. Just after I left the ramp another cyclist came alongside me. Oh no you don't, I stood on the peddles, got out of the saddle and did my best Sean Kelly impression, I opened a gap on the guy and pushed on to the final transition area. This was a field where I dropped my bike and headed through a gate for the final run to the finish.
What a sting in the tail. After over 5 hours of running and cycling the last thing the poor legs needed was a 800 meter run on a rough track. The finish line looked miles away. Getting closer, getting closer. At last over the line, no idea of my time since my watch had stopped working. I was pleasantly surprised to be handed a printout with my finish time and splits.
Stage 7 Cycle/short run completed 38.56

Overall time 5.20.18
Finishing position 383

I was highly annoyed that there were no sports drinks available at the finish. The entry fee is steep enough just to receive a T-shirt and water from a 1000 ltr industrial container, I even had to argue with some woman who was dispensing soup to get a cup for a drink of water. That's another thing, I don't know about other people but the last thing I want after a long race is soup.

Kevin and myself were waiting to cheer Damo on when he arrived behind us already finished. We headed off for some food and a well earned few pints, we even managed to get some sleep before we went back down to the finish line to meet Joyce and Susan. The girls had started in one of the later waves and finished together in a very impressive time.
We went into one of the local pubs for food and drink. We had a good bit of craic swapping stories from the days events and finished the night with a few beers back at the motorhome.

Decision time for me now. I can train hard for running and cycling but I'll always lose huge chunks of time on the cross-country/downhill sections. Should I practice for these and risk injury to gain some minutes or should I skip the adventure races and concentrate fully on road running with some cycling. I'll defer that decision for now but I'll have to decide soon.

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